A healthy Christian relationship is the best first step toward a healthy, Christian, lifelong marriage.
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Put God first. This seems obvious, but it is easy to get caught up in the thrill and infatuation of a relationship and suddenly realise you kind of left God behind. So, before you take any steps toward establishing a relationship, take some time. Pray. Read the Bible. Talk to Christian people who know you well and ask them if they think you are ready for a relationship. Begin a relationship only when you have peace and confirmation.
Set standards for your relationships. Set physical standards to maintain your purity throughout the relationship. This is the most difficult part of a romantic relationship, and it is far easier to mess up than most people want to admit. So be clear, be honest, and be specific. There is no shame in the struggle; it is good and healthy that you have sexual desire. But there is no point in setting yourselves up for failure. So be clear with each other about what you will and will not do, and don't leave that decision to a moment when you can't think straight. Also, if there are other issues you know one or both of you struggle with, go ahead and talk them through and set some standards up front. Jealousy, anger, flirting, or controlling can be problems. Think about the ones you know are likely to become an issue and be proactive.
Get accountability. It isn't enough to just make good decisions ahead of time; you need some help to uphold them. So find a mentor, a parent, a pastor, a counsellor, a wise Christian couple, and ask them to be your accountability partners. Share with them the standards you have set. Set up a regular meeting time to share where you are in the relationship and how you are doing with upholding your standards. Share with your accountability partners any other issues you need to deal with and let them help you avoid those problems.
Be honest. You need to be honest with God, with each other, and with your accountability partners. Without honesty, you cannot build a good relationship. Don't sugarcoat things. A relationship is romantic, exciting, thrilling; it is also a tool to help you become open, vulnerable, and able to love more deeply than you ever have before.
Talk about the important stuff. Don't just discuss the movies you enjoy or where you hope to go on vacation someday. Talk about your relationship with God, your core values, your idea of a perfect future, the struggles you've had in the past, what you hope your family will be like someday. Talk about the things that are important to you, that define you. Find out all you can about each other for the purpose of knowing if you fit or if there are too many conflicts to resolve.
Spend a lot of time together with your friends and your family. Couples often isolate themselves and spend time solely alone on dates. It's great to have some time alone , but you need to have time together with the people who know you best. They're able to see potential problems, usually before you can, and they'll be honest about what they think works or doesn't work about the relationship. Of course, this will do no good unless you are both willing to listen and take what they say seriously. It doesn't mean you will agree with everything that everyone says, but you do need to give attention and consideration.
Seek Biblical counselling. As the relationship progresses, get counsel over any serious conflicts or issues that arise. If you get to the point of engagement, get premarital counselling from wise, Christian people.
Evaluate the relationship. At some point in the relationship, you'll need to make a decision. Is this relationship serious, and headed for marriage? Or is it nice, but going nowhere? If you know it is going nowhere, it is not fair to the other person to keep going. If it is headed for marriage, you need to think about the next steps to take to be ready for that point in the relationship.
Put God first. Yes, it's the first step and it's here again as the last, because it is a continual need for a healthy Christian relationship. It's easy to get distracted, to make the relationship more important than anything else, or to make other things more important than the relationship and hurt each other. So spend regular time praying and reading the Bible. The wisdom there will serve you in this relationship, in every friendship, and in all of life.
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